Let the Voters Control Congressional Districts

May 22, 2015
Opinion Piece
By Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher

Depending on how the Supreme Court rules in the next couple weeks, partisan gerrymandering could become the only way that congressional districts are drawn. The Court heard arguments on March 2 in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a case challenging Arizona's non-partisan, citizen-run redistricting commission. Based on indications from the Justices during those arguments, we're preparing for a possible decision taking away the power of Arizona's redistricting commission, established by a vote of the people of Arizona, to draw congressional districts.

In addition to Arizona's citizen-led commission, the Citizens Redistricting Commission in California, which was given the authority to draw congressional districts by more than 60 percent of California voters in 2010, could also have their congressional district-drawing powers taken away. Other independent redistricting commissions in Washington, New Jersey, Hawaii, Idaho, and potentially other states could be similarly affected by the Supreme Court decision. Furthermore, states looking to create new non-partisan redistricting models for their congressional districts could be preemptively stymied in their efforts.

Yesterday, we introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 2501, the Citizens' Districts Preservation Act, to ensure that the will of our constituents and the democratic process is respected. Our bill, which already has 16 bipartisan co-sponsors, protects the decision of our voters to keep politics out of redistricting and maintains the current congressional districts that were drawn by independent redistricting commissions in place until after the next census occurs in 2020. Even the attorneys arguing against the Arizona Commission conceded that Congress has the authority under Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution to uphold commission-drawn districts for Arizona and other states. We hope that other Democrats and Republicans will cosponsor our bipartisan bill to help reduce partisanship, eliminate gerrymandering, and allow Congress to be more responsive to improving the lives of all Americans.

Independent redistricting commissions remove the temptation for politicians to pick their voters, and these citizen-run redistricting entities have proven very popular. Polling consistently shows that citizens from Maryland to Massachusetts and from North Carolina to Texas strongly favor independent redistricting commissions to draw legislative districts so that voters have real choices in selecting their elected officials.

When the voters choose a commission to draw their state's congressional districts, their decision should be respected. Under the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause, Congress has the power to ensure that the will of the people be carried out, and adopting the bipartisan Citizens' Districts Preservation Act will accomplish just that.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, represents California's 48th congressional district; Congressman Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat, represents California's 47th congressional district.